It never fails. Each year at VBS, I meet all these new people in the sea of VBS volunteers. There always seems to be this fresh batch of folks who have said “Yes” to selflessly committing their week of the summer to serving…yet I’ve never seen them before in my life. And trust me—it’s not because I’m not around. I’m the Kids Pastor’s wife…a part-time member of our Global Kids Staff at our multi-site church…and an all-in volunteer. Believe me. I’m around.
It’s because during the 51 other weeks out of the year, they’re not around. But checking off the “Volunteer at VBS” box makes them feel significant, and so they come. And frankly, there was a time where I would roll my eyes at these one-timers. Out of one side of my mouth, I’d smile and say, “Thanks so much for volunteering this week!”…while out of the other side, I’d scoff and joke with my fellow committed folks, “Too bad we won’t see them again until next year.”
Thankfully, somewhere along the line, I grew up. I began to see VBS week a little differently. Rather than shaking my head in judgement at the people who should be doing more, I began to see it as an opportunity for inspiring them to do more. Think about it—VBS week is like a college visit. It’s your one chance to showcase the awesomeness that is serving in your Kids ministry. If you don’t take the time to create an extraordinary VBS volunteer experience, the volunteers won’t be inspired to come back.
Because we don’t want you to miss out on this prime opportunity, we would like to help you create an environment that will leave your volunteers thirsting for more. Here are 5 things you can do to help you move your VBS volunteers into lasting commitments:
Who likes chaos? Certainly, not me! Especially when I have been generous with my personal time in order to help someone else. If I am choosing to volunteer somewhere, I will inevitably find more joy in the experience if details are clear, and things seem to be running smoothly. I don’t like to be caught off guard, and many people are the same way. So the best thing you can do in order to provide VBS volunteers with a positive experience is to get your ducks in a row early!
This means holding some sort of VBS volunteer training prior to the week of your program, in order to explain the rhythm of how things will go. If people know ahead of time what to expect, it will feel less crazy when they’re in the thick of it.
It means hashing out all the details of registration BEFORE that first day! You want the week to kick off nicely so your VBS volunteers are not already questioning what they signed up for.
It means having all activity supplies neatly organized ahead of time for every group each day. Folks get stressed out when they don’t have everything they need, especially when there is the pressure of 10 sets of little eyes staring at them. Make it easy for your volunteers, and have it ALL there.
If you work ahead to ensure a positive VBS experience for your leaders, more than likely this will entice them to consider serving long term. People generally want to make a difference. But they also need to enjoy the experience of making a difference if you’re hoping for a commitment.
Have you ever been shopping at a store where you needed assistance finding a product or figuring out a price…but there was no employee in sight who could help? There are few things more frustrating than having a problem to solve, and no one around to help you solve it. This is why it’s vital that you set up a system where someone in charge is always present for your VBS volunteers.
If you’re the one directing the whole thing, this someone cannot be you. You’ve got enough on your plate, and can’t effectively be present for every volunteer at every moment of every day. I encourage you to set up a coaching system. Recruit people you trust to step up into a leadership position, and call them “coaches.” Their role as a coach is to simply be available for volunteers all week long. Depending on the size of your VBS, you may need several coaches in order to cover your grounds (ie: one coach for Kindergarten-1st grade, another for 2nd-3rd grade, and another for 4th-5th grade).
Coaches will be available to step in when a group leader needs more scissors. Or they have a child with difficult behavior issues. Or they need some guidance on a particular activity. Volunteers will feel supported when they have a coach who’s got their back in these various situations. And just like when you’re shopping at a store, you’re more likely to continue giving your business to a company where employees are present to help you. When VBS volunteers have experienced an environment where they have support for what they’re doing, they are more likely to want to keep coming back.
Shower them with food and gifts.
Ok. Just hear me out on this. I’m not necessarily talking bribery, here. However, let’s be honest: people LOVE to feel appreciated. If they sense that the environment of serving in your kids ministry is a place where they’ll feel loved and appreciated, they’re more likely to want to come on board for a longer commitment. Food or gifts can be the ticket to tug at their heart strings.
So how about providing some sort of small meal or snacks for your volunteers each day? If you’re running a morning VBS, chances are your volunteers had to wake up earlier than most summer days. Having breakfast there for them communicates, “We understand it’s early, and we thank you for being willing to come! Enjoy breakfast on us!” Or set up a designated break room. Make it look exclusive, with a sign that reads, “VBS VOLUNTEERS ONLY.” Everyone likes feeling like a VIP, right? Deck it out with a constant flow of snacks and drinks for volunteers to swing by and help themselves when they have a moment.
Obviously, every church works on a different kind of budget. Not all of you will be able to provide your VBS volunteers with a lavish feast. So be creative! Consider recruiting people in your church who love to cook. (I’m thinking older folks who passionately love a good ole’ potluck.) They may not want to volunteer to spend time with kids, but could totally provide some top notch breakfast casserole or muffins.
Giving folks some sort of volunteer gift will work hand-in-hand with the food love you’ve shown. Perhaps this is a “VBS Survival Pack” on the first day, equipped with energy bars and Gatorade to sustain them. Or some sort of trinket with the logo of your kids ministry plastered on it. I encourage you to give them something they might actually use. It helps to think of what’s trendy and current. Last year, our church gave out reusable straws in carry cases with our logo on it. They were a hit, and I still see people using them several months later.
People often don’t realize they’re awesome until you tell them they’re awesome. This is why it’s so important to be the one to initiate any kind of conversation that might spark an idea in the mind and heart of a potential leader. You should view the week of VBS as an unsaid audition. VBS volunteers, even though they probably don’t realize it, are showing their ability to connect with kids and lead them in a group setting. So when you notice a volunteer who clearly has a knack for this, it’s the perfect conversation starter when you have a spare moment to pull them aside.
Say things like, “Hey, I’m not sure if you’re currently serving in any other areas at our church, but I think you would be an incredible Kids Small Group Leader!” or “Has anyone ever told you that you really have a gift for leading kids? I would love to chat with you some time about volunteering more often!”
Everyone wants to know they’re good at something. And you never know how the Lord may have already been working on their heart during the week of VBS. Your words may be just the catalyst they need to move on to something bigger.
Have you ever sat through a sermon on a Sunday morning, and felt fired up and ready to put into practice the Truth that spoke to your heart? Even on the drive home from church your mind is racing about all that inspired you. But then you eat lunch. And you take a nap. And before you know it, normal life has returned to stomp out any flame that may have sparked earlier that day.
VBS is no different. Folks typically leave on the last day of an amazing week totally exhausted, but on fire about all that God did! However, as soon as they’re out the door, regular distractions hit. And frankly, any rockstar conversations you may have had with them about stepping up to serve probably already got shoved to the back burner. This is why it’s on YOU to follow up!
As soon as VBS is over, jot down notes about any hopeful conversations you had with VBS volunteers throughout the week, and set yourself reminders in your calendar to follow up with them. Don’t nag them, but gently remind them that you still think they’re awesome, and would love to talk more about opportunities to serve regularly.
Also, do not allow yourself to get discouraged when a series of conversations doesn’t lead to a committed volunteer right away. You never know how your words over time will make a difference in the heart of another. So be generous with those words, but be trusting of God’s timing and how He’s working behind the scenes.
I hope these 5 tips are helpful as you dream big about building a long-term volunteer team. Remember to carefully look at your VBS week as recruitment ground for new leaders. Treat it as a try-out, and bring your A-game. After all, you were in their shoes once. At some point, there was something that drew you in to serving in kids ministry. This is your opportunity to provide others with that same inspiration that nudged you to get on board.